Millennium Post

Art in the aftermath

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you, Maya Angelou wrote in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the autobiography of her early years that talks deeply about racism, abuse and trauma. The book goes on to prove how the love of literature helped her overcome the trauma. All stories deserve to be told, but some are just too deep, too full of wound and scars, too vulnerable to be left out in the open. But sometimes these very stories are the ones that need to be there, out in the open, for the healing to begin. 

According to the 2007 report from the Government of India conducted on 125000 children across 13 Indian states, point out that out of those interviewed more than half (53 per cent) said that they had been subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse. Over 20 per cent of those interviewed said they were subjected to severe forms of abuse. The September 2014 UNICEF report on India goes on to say that around 43 per cent of girls in India who had ever been the subject of sexual violence said they first experienced it at or before they turned 19. 

All of these reports of course, come with a set of guidelines to prevent and respond to cases of sexual abuse or harassment. There are numerous NGOs, government bodies, counsellors and what not that help these victims deal with the trauma. There are sex-education classes, courses on ‘good touch-bad touch’ that make the young ones understand the issue better. There are those who deal with negative body images, many who blame themselves for the incident, many who lose the ability to interact about the issue due to the stigma and victim shaming attached with sexual harassment. With organisation working on the issue, many have found that involving children into art helps. 

“There are times when the child that comes to you is not even aware that what has happened to them was wrong. There are fathers who their daughters that ‘this’ is how a father loves his child. To make the kid understand is to place them in shock for at least a week. Self-blaming follows,” says Sonal Kapoor, the founder of the NGO Protsahan (encouragement), or as she prefers to call it, Protsahan school, that helps girls of marginalised community of Uttamnagar in Delhi, who have been subjected to abuse of all kinds. Being one of the darkest pockets of Delhi as far as women safety is concerned many girls, as young as eight years old, were being sent to brothels. The school is helping them learn not just the basics of Hindi, English and Maths, but also to create, draw, click pictures, make films, tell stories and in a more general way of speaking, express. “Sometimes the art created by the girls are shocking. They show abuse, gender discrimination they face at home, lack of love and much more. Things they cannot talk about are depicted through their work.”

Children who have undergone abuse go through various issues, of immediate impact or long term. “The immediate impact includes bed wetting, an effect on the academic performance, there are periods of shame and guilt. They are confused about the idea of love. Psychologically speaking, they have issues with trusting. Some other impact maybe eating disorders, sleeping disorders etc,” says Nabonita Banerjee, a counsellor at Delhi-based Rahi Foundation that works with women survivors of Incest and Child Sexual Abuse. “It is important to talk about the experience of child abuse as a way of healing. But for children talking is not that easy, so we use drawing, crayons, dolls. Sometimes they use angry colours, dark colours to depict the abuse, sometimes they draw enlarged genitals. This is also a great tool for therapists to understand what the child went through,” she adds.

Catharsis is what this is about. Expressing without talking. Things that are supposed to shame, intimidate and subject you to judgement find an easier way out through other mediums.  Letters are another example. Remember, how in school, we were encouraged to write diaries? Anand Kapoor and Elizabeth Rogers have curated an exhibition for the Creative Services Support Group where young girls were asked to write letters expressing their aspirations. The idea is to raise awareness about gender stereotyping and gender discrimination and to open up about things that they would not talk about normally. The exhibition was aptly named after one of Maya Angelou’s most famous collection of poems, And Still I Rise. “We started off with wanting to work on the issue of child abuse but as a precursor to it we started the programme. We realised that to empower young women and to learn about their dreams, letters were a great tool. Girls are not allowed to talk about their dreams in many families, we held workshops with the girls from privileged schools as well as MCD schools, NGOs and homes in general. 200 girls aged between 11-21 years of age have written about their concerns, and that indeed is cathartic,” says Anand Kapoor. 

A 15 year old writes in one of the letters addressed to ‘the citizens of the world’, “I have my whole life to live but I don’t want to live in a world where women aren’t allowed to live and enjoy life the way they want to. Women are faced with a lot of discrimination, with stereotypes and gender labels following them around everywhere. It hurts me thinking about existing in a world like this. I fear that my many hopes and aspirations for the future will not come true due these meaningless tags. How can anyone generalise and put one above another?” The frustrated words of the young woman hits you when she writes that she wants to love and enjoy her life, like a free bird, not like 
a caged animal.

“The letters are sometimes angry, sometimes full of dreams and those who visit the museum are blown away by the stark honesty of the written words. The letters are powerful and they suggest hope for change,” Anand adds. 

Sonal echoes similar sentiments when she talks about her girls making posters on awareness about various issues. “It strikes you when an eight year old makes a poster about female foeticide by simply drawing around the word beti (daughter) in Hindi. The girls have learned to create and it may help them express but I want to teach them that their hands are enough for them to create anything, 
even their destiny.”
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